Protecting community rights over traditional knowledge
The current system of intellectual property rights is designed to promote commercial and scientific innovation. It offers little scope for protecting the knowledge rights of indigenous peoples, traditional farmers and healers, whose survival requires collective – not exclusive – access to new knowledge and innovations.
Principal researcher (biocultural heritage), Natural Resources
Many communities face increasing threats to their resource rights due to the spread of western intellectual property rights (IPRs), often through Free Trade Agreements. If IPRs are granted too easily they can confer rights over community resources to others and do not require consent or benefit-sharing when community resources are used.
They can also limit the rights of farmers to use, sell or exchange a bio-resource, which can be a serious problem if your livelihood depends on it.
This action-research project, which ran from 2004-09, developed tools to allow communities to maintain control over their knowledge and related bio-resources, helping them to take advantage of market opportunities and preventing them from being exploited and misappropriated.
What IIED did
This project explored the customary laws and practices of indigenous and local communities to identify appropriate mechanisms to protect their resource rights and knowledge systems.
It involved participatory research at community level to strengthen local capacity and develop local tools for protecting traditional knowledge – including biocultural registers, biocultural community protocols and biocultural products.
It also informed policies on traditional knowledge and biodiversity at local, national and international levels, and developed the concept of collective biocultural heritage, which provided the common framework to link different studies on this theme in China, India, Kenya, Panama and Peru.
Watch a short film that explores the status and threats to biocultural heritage, and the responses needed, on IIED's YouTube channel, or below:
Indigenous Peoples' Food Systems and Biocultural Heritage: Addressing Indigenous Priorities Using Decolonial and Interdisciplinary Research Approaches
Publication, 30 September 2022
Protecting traditional health knowledge in Kenya: the role of customary laws and practices
Publication, 01 October 2012
Heritage on the edge: Protecting traditional knowledge and genetic resources in the Eastern Himalayas, India
Publication, 01 October 2012
Community biocultural protocols: building mechanisms for access and benefit sharing among the communities of the Potato Park based on Quechua customary norms (detailed report)
Publication, 01 March 2012
Community biocultural protocols: building mechanisms for access and benefit sharing among the communities of the Potato Park based on Quechua customary norms (summary report)
Publication, 01 October 2011
The role of biodiversity, traditional knowledge and participatory plant breeding in climate change adaptation in Karst mountain areas in SW China
Publication, 01 July 2011
Implementing farmers’ rights under the FAO International Treaty on PGRFA: the need for a broad approach based on biocultural heritage
Publication, 01 March 2011
Use it or lose it: protecting the traditional knowledge, genetic resources and customary laws of marginal farmers in Southwest China
Publication, 01 October 2010
Displaced and marginalised: protecting the traditional knowledge, customary laws and forest rights of the Yanadi Tribals of Andhra Pradesh
Publication, 01 September 2010
Project website: bioculturalheritage.org
Video: Traditional knowledge rights: heritage on the edge (2017)
PLA65: Biodiversity and culture: exploring community protocols, rights and consent, guest edited by Krystyna Swiderska with Angela Milligan, Kanchi Kohli, Harry Jonas, Holly Shrumm, Wim Hiemstra, Maria Julia Oliva (2012), Participation, Learning and Action Journal
Guest blog: BBC Viewpoint: Could things for biodiversity go from bad to worse?, by Krystyna Swiderska (July 2010)
Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy
Herbal and Folklore Research Centre (HFRC)
Fundacion Dobbo Yala